The Kooks @ First Direct Arena, 23/11

With the First Direct Arena packed full of fans, The Kooks looked set to have a solid start to their 2017 arena tour. A mainstay in English indie rock, the band has a lengthy collection of hits to draw on, having released their first album in 2006 with 3 subsequent releases in the following 10 years.
Support came from the charmingly bolshy DMA’s, who somehow made the 13,500 capacity arena feel like a scuzzy bar with their sneering attitude and magnetising Madchester sounds. The Sydney three-piece owned the arena, with chants of “DMA’s, DMA’s DMA’s” pulsing from the front row. ‘Step Up The Morphine’ injected some vulnerability into the relatively bullish set. Emulating a slightly diluted Gallagher brother, the front man Tommy O’Dell gave us a preview of Liam Gallagher’s gig at FDA on the 3rd of December.
While many bands would stick to mostly playing their newer material, the Kooks drew a lot on their older songs; 8 of the 24 were from their debut (the most they played from any of their albums), a nice show of respect for their longtime fans. Frontman Luke Pritchard performed with an energy and charisma you’d expect from a younger frontman, but with a confidence you only get from 11 years of experience.
They put on a good show, ticking off all the boxes you’d expect from a Kooks show. They were full of energy, had some nice moments of crowd interaction, and put on an overall spotless performance—Pritchard’s vocals were a strong point. But that by-the-numbers approach was also a bit of a weakness; it can feel a bit stale, not doing much to differentiate themselves in a musical climate where figures like Kanye West are performing on giant floating platforms. By the sixth time Pritchard called out “How’re you doing Leeds?!” it felt more like he was going through the motions rather than saying anything meaningful.
One highlight of the show, however, was their surprise intimate acoustic set. After the upbeat ‘Do You Wanna’, the curtains closed and a quaint living room, fireplace and all, was set up on the front of the stage. It was a genuinely surprising moment and was the most intimate part of a massive arena gig.
At the end of the day, though, The Kooks are The Kooks. That they’ve managed to stay relevant after 11 years, especially in the hip-hop and r&b heavy 2010s, is a feat in itself. With hits like ‘Naive’ and ‘Always Where I Need to Be’, they’ve cemented themselves into English indie-rock canon, and they’re not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.
Mikail Hanafi
Images by Meg Firth